Source: Bloomberg, by Scott Reyburn
A Degas sculpture last night fetched a record 13.3 million pounds ($19.2 million), while other high- value works were rejected, at the first international auction- house test of the art market in 2009.
A bronze version of Degas’s best-known “Little Dancer” statue was sold by U.K. collector and philanthropist John Madejski for 8 million pounds more than he paid for it five years ago. The record auction price for a Degas statue made it the top lot in Sotheby’s London sale of Impressionist and modern art. Seventy-six percent of the 29 lots found buyers. Four works estimated to fetch at least 2 million pounds didn’t sell.
“Pictures that carried too high estimates were shunned by a responsible audience,” said London-based dealer James Roundell. “If works were correctly priced, then there was interest. Overall, the message was actually quite positive.”
The value of London’s Impressionist sales has dropped 41 percent from the 170 million-pound low estimate last February. This month’s evening auctions of contemporary art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s International are estimated by the auction houses to fetch at least 31.6 million pounds, a decline of 78 percent on the 143.7 million-pound minimum valuation they carried last year, Bloomberg calculations show.
Last night’s sale raised a total of 32.6 million pounds with fees against a low estimate of 40.6 million pounds, based on hammer prices.
Last February, the equivalent sale at Sotheby’s took 117 million pounds from 76 lots, the most the U.S.-based auction house has ever made in a London auction of modern and Impressionist works. Demand was boosted then by Russian bidders vying to buy French Impressionist and German Expressionist works.
The evening’s most intense competition was generated for Degas’s “Petite danseuse de quatorze ans.” Madejski, 67, had paid 5 million pounds for the work at Sotheby’s in February 2004. It was one of 10 left in private hands.
The 3-foot-high “Little Dancer” was one of an edition of 28 bronze casts made in 1922 after the artist’s death in 1917. The original wax and fabric statue, now in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was first shown by Degas in Paris at the sixth Impressionist exhibition of 1881.
Three telephone bidders pushed the price up to 13.3 million pounds with fees, the most for any Degas sculpture, against a low estimate of 9 million pounds. It beat the $12.3 million paid for another version of the “Petite danseuse” at Sotheby’s New York in 1999. Last night’s buyer was an anonymous Asian collector, said the auction house.
A 1913 “Strassenszene (Street Scene)” by the German Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner sold to another telephone bidder for 5.4 million pounds with fees against a low estimate of 5 million pounds. The Kirchner had last appeared at auction in June 1997 at Sotheby’s in London, where it sold for 2 million pounds with fees.
“This sale sent out a very positive message to this market and to the art market as a whole,” Melanie Clore, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, said.
The only high-value lot to sell significantly above expectations was the large 4-foot 9-inch high Joan Miro surrealist abstract, “Femmes et Oiseaux dans la Nuit,” dating from 1968. It was bought by the London- and New York-based Nahmad family of dealers for 2 million pounds, double the top estimate.
Among the higher-value lots unsold were Modigliani’s 1913 painting “Cariatide,” which had a presale estimate of 6 million pounds to 8 million pounds, and the Degas pastel from about 1901, “Danseuses au Foyer,” estimated at Sotheby’s at 3.5 million pounds to 4.5 million pounds.
Some potential buyers were unable to view the sale because of London’s heaviest snowfalls since 1991, and this was a “slight factor” in the performance of certain lots, said Sotheby’s specialist Mark Poltimore.
“If you want to spend two million pounds on a painting, you want to see the work,” he said.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)